Glorified Cameos Make for 'Billing Fraud'

Hugh Grant (search) gets second billing to Renee Zellweger and his picture is prominently featured in the ads, but you don't find a whole lot of the handsome British heartthrob in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason." (search)

Grant appears for a grand total of perhaps 20 minutes in the 106-minute feature - even he has called it a "smallish" role in interviews - in what's becoming an increasingly common practice: stars grabbing above-the-title billing for what used to be called supporting roles or glorified cameos.

The ads for the caper comedy "After the Sunset," (search) also opening Friday, have Salma Hayek's (search) name right after Pierce Brosnan - but she has far less screen time than Woody Harrelson or even Nomie Harris, both of whose names appear below the title.

Pity fans of Jennifer Lopez (search), who disappears for long stretches of "Shall We Dance" (search) while the flick focuses on co-star Susan Sarandon (search), who is billed one spot below Lopez.

On the other hand, Sarandon is in a whole lot less of the just-released "Alfie" than the print and TV ads would lead you to believe.

And Angelina Jolie (search) has just three scenes - a glorified cameo - in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" (search) - but that rated her a spot above the title with the movie's actual stars, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Few Hollywood players are willing to talk for attribution about this very touchy subject.

"You have to understand that billing is absolutely not based on the amount of screen time a performer has in the final edited product," said one veteran producer.

"It's based on the performer's clout, ego and on how prominent the role is in the script - something that can change quite a bit in the editing room."

Hollywood has been speculating that Lopez's scenes in "Shall We Dance" were cut back because of unspectacular dailies - and the fallout from her romance with Ben Affleck, which damaged the box office of two previous films they made together, "Gigli" and "Jersey Girl."

In other cases, a bankable star's big billing in a supporting role is used as a lure for a movie's financiers or to find a distributor.

"On 'Sky Captain,' Jolie probably got her usual full fee for three or four days' work," says David Poland of the moviecitynews.com Web site, "because they needed to sell the movie to a studio."

With "Bridget Jones," sources said the problem was that Grant's character, the cadly Daniel Cleaver, barely appeared in the second novel about the lovable singleton by Helen Fielding - and the role actually had to be beefed up before Grant would agree to return.

"Even if he barely shows up, it's necessary to bring back the stars of the original to lure the audience back," Poland says.

In the film, Daniel has become the host of a TV travel show. During the movie's first hour, aside from two brief clips from the show, Grant has only one scene, when he and Zellweger's Bridget bump into each other in their TV network's library.

Later, after Bridget is estranged from her boyfriend Mark Darcy, played again by Colin Firth, she goes with Daniel on a business trip to Thailand that takes about 10 minutes of screen time - and then Grant disappears until the movie's climax.

Occasionally, stars opt for no billing at all in supporting roles.

That's the case with "Noel," also opening next Friday, in which Robin Williams has a largish unbilled role as a dying priest who dissuades the busy Sarandon (who gets top billing) from jumping in the East River on Christmas Eve.

Williams' motives aren't known, but stars have been known to forgo billing to appear in atypical projects - Bill Murray in "Tootsie" is a famous example - or because they are appearing strictly as a favor to the filmmakers (Woody Allen in Jean-Luc Godard's "King Lear").

But perhaps the best truth-in-advertising model for Hollywood is what happened when Eddie Murphy - then one of the biggest attractions in the business - had a small supporting role in a 1984 Dudley Moore comedy called "Best Defense."

Murphy was billed second - but with unusual candor, Paramount advertised him in print ads and posters as a "strategic guest star." The film flopped anyway.